• Strategy
  • CFO IT

The Great Divide

Or, what your CIO would really like to say to you if only the job market were better.

“The consultants come in and say, ‘Your IT people are good’—because they’re not supposed to criticize IT—’but we can help you do the job much better,’” says Thomas Bihun, former IT director at Wabash Technologies. “They’re often the ones who created unrealistic expectations.”

On occasion, Bihun and other CIOs assert, CFOs will take the lion’s share of the credit if a project is a success, while being quick to point the finger at IT if the opposite is true. Worse, once the project is up and running, CFOs may lose interest in it even though their continued involvement is key to maintaining its effectiveness. “It’s not only the CFO, but most of the CXOs, including the CEO, who fail to follow up,” says AlShahri.

The lack of follow-up can create problems, especially with ERP systems that dictate an organization utilize one central database so that all its numbers and data are consistent. “Without the CFO’s backing, people start using spreadsheets instead of the ERP system,” says Bihun. “And the numbers may not jibe.”

A Matter of Time

With the recent economic downturn and the demands of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, many finance executives today have little time or energy to devote to technology issues, CIOs assert. “Because of the state of the economy and the competitive environment we are in, the CFO has to concern himself with the financial condition of the company,” says Bihun. “That was not true in the past. The CFO was there when I needed him.”

“The CFO function itself is changing, with more time required for risk management, due to Sarbanes-Oxley, versus strategy,” says Randy S. Stone, vice president of enterprise information technology at Teradyne Inc., a Boston-based electronics manufacturer. (Note: In our IT Directions 1.0 survey in “The Truth about Tech” (CFO IT­, Fall 2002), 73 percent of CFOs surveyed said they were spending “significantly” or “moderately” more time on IT issues.)

AlShahri adds that CFOs often have a “quarterly oriented mentality,” given their focus on meeting Wall Street projections every three months, while CIOs are process-oriented and take the longer-term view. “It is like two people; one is having a magnifying lens and the other has a wide lens,” he says. “Who can see more of the road?”

Stone agrees that it is critical for a CFO to have a broad lens when looking at IT investments. For example, when Teradyne moved some of its electronics manufacturing operations to low-cost regions such as the Philippines and China, its technology costs went up because of the need for systems and communications capabilities to operate in these areas.

“CFOs have to appreciate this kind of thing,” she says. “Their lens has to be very broad.” Stone says that Teradyne CFO Gregory Beecher “absolutely” understood her concerns. Score one for teamwork.

CFOs who refuse to look beyond the bottom line tend to characterize IT as strictly a cost center. In these situations, the CIO serves essentially as a project manager with a mandate to get maximum ROI on every initiative, spending most of his or her time supervising vendors and outsourcers.

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